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Just Walk Away

When to take a break during a training session. By Amanda Nelson


Frustration.  It's that dirty word in agility that no one wants to talk about. Trainers don't get frustrated with dogs while training; if a dog isn't learning something, then, patient beings that we are, we should help our dogs through their issues with a smile on our face.  Well, that doesn't happen for everyone. We are human! We get frustrated!  The key to training a dog is knowing when to walk away.

My dog, Nargles, is teaching me all kinds of new things about frustration.  She is much different to train than my dog Try, and I am working through things with Nargles that I never had to deal with when training Try. For example, my 17" Border Collie takes a country mile to make a turn; this is something that I am currently working on with her. And not only does she not want to turn, she likes to scream when I do make her turn, and I am not really fond of the ear piercing noise when trying to work her.  So do I get frustrated? Yes, oh yes!

So what do you do in this situation?  Simple answer: walk away.  Most people have a hard time keeping a calm look on their face and in their body language when they are frustrated; your mind may be telling you to be calm but your body will be doing otherwise.

So, for example, I was doing some pinwheel work with Nargles, and she was just not getting it. I knew I needed to walk away but then we wouldn't end on a good note, which is how I end every training session. So, instead of trying to do the pinwheel again and hoping we could get it right, I took her over to a set of three hoops that I was working Try's "Go" exercise on. I let her do three nice and easy hoops, told her how awesome she was, and went in the house.

I gave both of us some time to cool off and we went back out to the pinwheel of doom later that evening, and what do you know? She hammered it!

Sometimes dogs (just like people) will learn things faster if you just let them walk away and process it. I never let them end on a bad note. I always let them do something else and be successful and then I will let them stop.

Being frustrated isn't bad, but sometimes it comes across in the agility world that if you are a "good" trainer you are never frustrated and you have the patience of a saint.  Frustration becomes bad when trainers don't know what is happening and continue to drill the dogs. My golden rule is if they get is wrong three times in a row, step away and took a look at yourself, your dog and the exercise. End on a good note and let everything cool off.  Then when you come back that evening or the next day, you and your dog both are coming at it with a fresh mind.

Just always remember when to walk away.

Amanda specializes in distance training and competes in NADAC Superstakes [extreme distance agility classes] with her Border Collie, Try. Amanda offers many online classes covering agility skills and canine health topics each month through Fluid Motion Agility (fluidmotionagility.com). She also publishes articles and mini-training series through the Fluid Motion Youtube channel at youtube.com/fluidmotionagility. 

A version of this article first appeared at http://fmagility.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/walk-away-man-just-walk-away/ and is re-posted with permission.

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